Ethics in the Israeli Military

Friday, March 4

Written by Janet Hirsch

We started our day, with ‘an only in Israel moment’. Our guest speaker Colonel Benzi Gruber, a Deputy Commander in the IDF had mistakenly gone to the David Hotel in Jerusalem. While he drove to Tel Aviv we had the chance to process some of what had happened the day before, both at the Museum and the Refugee Hotline. It was wonderful to have Cantor Kent with us and once again our incredible guide, who could bring his unique perspective to help answer all our questions.

When Col. Gruber arrived he wasted no time in helping us come to some kind of understanding of his subject that he speaks to audiences around the world on – Ethics in the Field. We did learn another uniquely Israeli tidbit, Enav’s commander in the field was none other than Col. Benzi Gruber. Col. Gruber has 20,000 soldiers under his commend.

Not sure how much detail I should go into here, as this was a very dense presentation. His goal was to help us understand the guidelines that the IDF follows and passes on to each of its soldiers. This would also provide us with a time to have certain things we had heard in our visit to East Jerusalem, the settlement of Efrat, and the Palestinian Refugee camp in the West Bank clarified.

My take away from this is that IDF soldiers are trained that if there is any doubt that you may harm civilians you are not allowed to shoot. We viewed Reuters and AP footage that showed you how awful war is, how things are not always as they seem, and how you just don’t always have all the information you need. We also learned that often you have only 8 (or less) SECONDS TO make a decision. Bearing in mind that soldiers could be very tired (they carry up to 180 lbs on their backs), as the Colonel told us, after 4 hours carrying that weight you lose ½ your IQ points, and when you put the helmet on top of that you are just an idiot (his words – not mine). The videos were incredibly informative, and really gave you a clearer understanding of how complicated (that word again), and tragic the situation is.

We learned that shooting one’s weapon makes a soldier feel calmer, and that it is the commander’s role to stop the soldiers from just shooting to their hearts content, as they won’t have ammunition when they need it.

My take away was that:

  1. If in doubt – don’t shoot
  2. Soldiers are told that it is not their job to punish individuals for their past actions – the courts will do that
  3. They are only to use the minimum amount of force to neutralize the threat
  4. If a soldier kills an innocent civilian (although that is so hard to determine – refer back to if in doubt don’t) they will be a murderer and carry that around with them for the rest of their lives.
  5. Killing someone to prevent them from becoming a “terrorist” in the future is not a good reason to kill them.
  6. You can use your weapon and power only to protect yourself and your country.
  7. Minimize the damage
  8. Collateral damage is “not an open check”
  9. PTSD can take up to 15 years to even materialize
  10. Israeli soldiers do not commit suicide in nearly the numbers that US soldiers do.
  11. IDF does not arrest people unless they have good reason to do so
  12. IDF does undertake routine raids on refugee camps just to keep the situation under control, as they cannot control what does in and out of the camps

People asked their questions – as you can expect a lively discussion ensued.

The Colonel thinks that there is only one solution to the Israeli Palestinian situation – “We both have to educate our children not to hate each other”.

What is the difference between a Terrorist and a Freedom Fighter – Terrorists aim to kill civilians – Freedom Fighters only kill enemy soldiers.

We learned that he loved to play a game called Matkot which is a non-competitive beach game in which two, or more, players hit a small ball back and forth using paddles.  This is a game that has no winners – ironic.

Col. Gruber was an amazing speaker, very charismatic, funny and charming. One thing you really came away with is his deep love of Israel and his belief that it is a privilege to serve in the Israeli Army. This comes from his family history and the fact that his grandmother carried her twin sister 500 miles in the winter of 1945. They had both been experimented on by Josef Mengele .

The goal is to win and still remain human beings.

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